A SHADOW FALLS
I should be blogging about a great game on Friday night between Munster and Ulster at Ravenhill and the great advert for Irish rugby it was.
That euphoria, satisfaction and joy of an Ulster victory has evaporated like water into grains of sand as the news of the death of Nevin Spence has filtered through cyber space.
As I type this Sunday morning the sky is grey and overcast, clouds scud across the horizon adding to the grimly dark sense of dread felt in the wake of this tragedy.
This is first and foremost a family tragedy. A mother has lost her two sons and a husband in a single act of tragic consequences. The farming industry has an unacceptably high share of industrial fatalities but it is rare that there is one were an accident has such scope for tragedy.
My condolences to the Spence family. One can only imagine the distress accompanying the discovery and subsequent attempts at resuscitating the victims, it will leave a lasting impression on all who were at the scene.
For us Ulster supporters the tragic deaths have a link closer to home than usual as it is Nevin Spence, the Ulster centre and potential Ireland star who is among the dead.
The mourning of his passing will be most keenly felt by family, friends and teammates and it is for them to honour him in that way.
For Ulster rugby supporters it is a cause for celebration of a life well lived off the field and celebrated on it as an excellent talent who in all probability would have went on to play for Ireland sooner rather than later.
I did not know Nevin Spence personally nor had I ever spoken to him. I do recall him at a supporters evening sitting rather shyly at the top table with the likes of Johan Muller and answering questions respectfully.
I recall a personable youngster who had a great future in front of him. A tough uncompromising player on the rugby pitch he was making his comeback after injury in last Fridays game for the Ravens. I have no doubt he was earmarked for the inside centre role and would have been an integral part of Ulster’s plans this season.
I do not wish eulogise him as there is no further part for him to play on the rugby pitch. Undoubtedly though he was seen as a potential Ireland player and all the signs were that he would rise to that level in a matter of seasons had the progress he made continued following a spell on the sidelines with injury.
All that is now pure conjecture as we will never know how things would have panned out. As it is we can only remember and cherish the memories.
For me it was the try against Bath in the Heineken and his embarrassment at having went literally head over heels in the acting of scoring. It was typical of his commitment on the field of play and his tough uncompromising attitude will be gratefully remembered by Ulster fans everywhere and in the broader rugby sense.
The death of Nevin Spence and the wider family tragedy in which he was part puts into perspective Ulster’s win over a determined Munster side by Ulster on Friday night.
I will proceed cautiously here and write with reserve in noting that Ulster, whilst not at their best, showed great reserves of self belief to achieve the win in the face of a typical Munster onslaught over the last 6 or 7 minutes of the game.
Special mention must go mighty mouse himself, Paul Marshall. It was obvious at the time that Marshall was using his speed of the mark to harass O’Gara into either missing the drop goal or putting him off his stride.
Watching it again on SKY plus it was satisfying to see how Marshall took on the responsibility to mark O’Gara every time the ball came his way in the series of drives Munster put in to manufacture a winning score.
When the ball went to a Munster forward, Marshall calmly stood by or calmly tracked O’Gara across the pitch as he switched position to try and shake off his pursuer. Each time the ball went to ROG, Marshall shot out of the blocks and every time forced him to go laterally.
Eventually Munster ran out of steam even as the commentators evoked memories of the epic Heineken 40 odd phase end game at Thomond against Northampton. There the Saints lost as Munster eventually engineered the drop goal to seal the match.
At Ravenhill, it was gratifying to see Marshall show leadership qualities in undertaking responsibility to snub out Munster’s chief threat of a drop goal victory.
Indeed Marshall’s all round game was very good. He is slowly maturing into a very good player. I have not always been a fan but he is at last beginning to look less like an animated and headless chicken and more of cool calm and collected version of rugby player that potentially was hiding beneath that frantic exterior.
Elsewhere on Friday night, the atmosphere was great with Ulster fans quietly confident of victory but suitably cautious about what Munster might bring to the table. With Munster leading by 9pts those underlying fears were realised as Alain Rolland proceeded to ignore frequent breaches of the law round the ruck area particularly by Munster.
In mitigation when he penalised Munster late in the game at a scrum to give Ulster their winning points, he told the Munster players that he’d penalised Ulster for exactly the same thing a few minutes earlier.
Consistency of approach by Rolland, though in hindsight penalising Trimble late in the game for attempting to retrieve the ball from Hurley was harsh. Especially when you saw Hurley holding him back by the shirt moments earlier in full view of the TJ and in the first half when he was held back from supporting Payne’s break by Duncan Williams.
Naturally Munsterfans are up in arms about homer Rolland but so have the Ulster fans been suitably warlike over some of his decisions in past games especially against Leinster.
Overall Munsterfans, an acerbic lot, appear in general pleased to have come away with a losing BP having like the Ulsterians enjoyed a cracking game.
A Prophet on a Profit
Far be it from me to say I told you so because in truth I did not realise how close to the truth I was. Here is an edited extract from my June blog about the English and the Heineken Cup.
‘The ultimate scenario for the Aviva Premiership powerbrokers will be that by 2020 there will only be English teams playing in the Heineken Cup thereby ensuring at least one of them will win it!!!’
For sure the Americans have the World Series involving only American teams, so there’s no reason why they can’t have a European Cup involving just the English teams!
They’re welcome to it and will no doubt feel no hint of embarrassment when Cornish Pirates play London Welsh in the 2020 European Rugby Final.’
Nevin Spence RIP.